Imagine being in a large crowded field, thousands of people surrounding you, and suddenly you fall and hurt yourself. You call out for help, hoping for someone to pick you up or someone to call an ambulance, or just to acknowledge your suffering. And in the crowded field, no one seems to listen; you're not loud enough. There are people holding microphones that could amplify your voice, they see you but they choose not to act.
This is selective activism.
To have the power to get help for someone and decide for whatever reason they are not important enough, or they are unworthy of the help.
An example of selective activism in media would be the traction received by the Dua Zehra case. The parents' voices were amplified and listened to and ultimately action was taken in finding the girl and taking appropriate measures to return her to the family despite the long judicial delays. However, the same media sits quietly as thousands of cases of forced conversions and marriages of girls' belonging to the religious minority are allowed to go unresolved. There is no advocacy for justice for their suffering, no fight for their constitutional rights. It seems comically horrifying that an entity like the media has so much control over the smooth and just working of the legal and law enforcement systems in the country. However, the harsh reality is that it does as we witness with the eruption of more and more such cases. The even harsher reality is that it bears no responsibility for equal representation of those seeking help through its means.
Selective Activism is also evident in global cases within Pakistani media. A recent example would be the difference in reactions to the Ukraine-Russia war and the Palestinian genocide. The western influence of social media is especially evident during global activism trends such as during the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement or the Ukraine-Russia war. It's not wrong to participate in such large-scale movements, however, it borders on performative activism when the same issues within one's locale are not highlighted.
The ethnic cleansing of Uyghur Muslims in China is an extreme injustice barely reported on by our media. Similarly, the same activism shown for Ukrainians is not replicated for Palestinians or even those in the disputed territory of J&K (Jammu and Kashmir) who have been suffering for years. The same individuals posting against the racial injustices against African Americans continue to use words like “kali” and “ugly” synonymously. To pick and choose those who deserve help and those who don't when their suffering is essentially the same, if not worse, is selective activism. If it is not the bias in mainstream media that indulges in it, it is evident in social media.
Bias in media is not necessarily reduced to selective activism. It is in multitudes of forms. The unequal balance of negative representation of religious groups is a type of bias that is most evident. An example of this may be the way minority groups like Ahmadis are consistently negatively portrayed in the media. Their plights such as the recent fatal attack on Naseer Ahmad - a man from the Ahmadi community who was stabbed to death at a bus stop, are not widely reported and no actions are taken to ensure justice for them. Known persecutors of the Ahmadi community are glorified in the media and given platforms such as far-right groups like Tehreek - e Labbaik (TLP). Allowing such negative representation to be voiced and amplifying such voices through mainstream and social media, further puts the Ahmadi community at risk.
The media bias is by no means limited to religious groups, a major factor of distrust of media is the political affiliation of most mainstream news sources. Each channel offers a filtered perspective of what should be an objective view of current affairs. By either omitting or twisting narratives with supportive statements, news channels garner sympathy for their associated political party. With no check for transparency in news and journalism, influential entities like ruling parties can censor and control narratives by banning certain news channels, a recent example being the censorship of ARY News. The amount of influence media has in terms of the way it can affect judicial outcomes as well as ensure the running of governmental entities, is very dangerous when it cannot be trusted to be transparent and objective.
In a study concerning media biases and toxicity amongst news organisations in India and Pakistan, it was discovered that news organisations ‘show a political leaning towards political parties in terms of coverage and statement biases.’ So how do these political organisations influence the media? As noted in an article in Dawn News 2018, before general elections, press and journalist intimidation are practices frequented by large political bodies in an attempt to censor free speech and limit negative representation of concerned parties. It states that the media bears a responsibility to act in the public interest and share informative and educative current news. However, due to the lack of implementation of ethical codes and accountability by self-regulatory organisations such as the Pakistan Broadcasters Association, Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, and others, the media in Pakistan persists in compromising public interest.
Both mainstream and social media are primary sources of news within the country. Through several cases as those mentioned above, it is evident that they both influence many of the essential systems within government including legal, law enforcement, education, and judicial aspects. Not only this but it even has the power to influence political views and thus affect the overall government. This is manipulated and misused through methods like blackmail, journalist intimidation, etc. Thus an entity trusted by the masses to provide objective and honest information is tainted. The media ultimately has the power to choose who to help, and where they are expected to remain neutral and unbiased. However, they decide to compromise their code of ethics and choose whoever pays best.
We are all in this large crowded field, the media has the power to access the police, the ambulance, and the lawyers. If someone pushes you and you fall, you must hope that you are richer, stronger, and of the same religious and ethnic background as the majority of the crowd. You must hope that helping you is trendy or else there is no help coming for you.
Nur us Sahar Kamran is an in-house writer at Perspective Magazine.